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J. S. Hardman "Consultant software developer (contractor)" (Near London, UK)
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Miracle-Gro 1kg Flower Magic Flower Seeds with Feed and Coir Mix Jug (Multi-coloured)
Miracle-Gro 1kg Flower Magic Flower Seeds with Feed and Coir Mix Jug (Multi-coloured)
Price: £5.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Pretty much filled a bed with flowers for the summer, 17 Aug 2013
Having moved where I grow my vegetables, I had an area about 4m x 2.5m to fill. I bought a mix of Hebes which I planted across that area. However, as there was a lot of bare soil in between, I thought I'd try one of these Miracle-Gro jugs, containing a mix of flower seeds, feed and coir. I sprinkled it between the Hebes, then pretty much left it. I think I watered it twice, but that was it. Weeding was a bit problematic, as I had no idea what the things in this jug would look like when they were starting off. However, after a few weeks, the first flowers appeared, and since then more have kept on appearing. It hasn't been perfect, as there are a few gaps, but for the most part, the bed is full of various flowers and looks better than it has at any point in the last 10 years. I haven't checked yet, but I hope these are things that come up year after year. I will certainly be buying another of these jugs next year, if not two of them, to ensure that the gaps are filled.

The question in my mind though, is would it have been just as effective (and cheaper) to get a packet of mixed seeds, rather than the jug with feed etc. I don't know. But for a bed pretty much full of flowers for the entire summer (so far), all for less than a tenner, I'm not complaining.

Works for me.


Pro Hula Hoops: Travel Weighted Hula Hoop - Hula Hoops For Exercise, Dance & Fitness! (39'-660g) NO Instructions Needed! (Black/UV Pink)
Pro Hula Hoops: Travel Weighted Hula Hoop - Hula Hoops For Exercise, Dance & Fitness! (39'-660g) NO Instructions Needed! (Black/UV Pink)
Offered by Flames N Games Ltd-Specialist Juggling Store
Price: £12.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for strengthening core muscles and improving flexibility, 17 Aug 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having been sat in a desk job for a while, with not enough exercise, the time finally came when I decided my weight was heading the wrong way. Using the FitnessPal app (free and brilliant) on my phone, a cross-trainer pointing at the TV, and a Lovefilm subscription (so that I had something to distract me whilst on the cross-trainer), soon got the weight heading the right direction again and multiple muscles in much better shape than they were. However, given my dislike for abdominal exercises, getting my core muscles into shape was more problematic, until I bought one of these Pro Hula Hoops on the recommendation of a friend. Having never hooped before, it didn't take long to get the hang of it, and it's another exercise you can do in front of the TV (as long as you have space). Typically, I do 15 or 30 minutes on high-resistance on the cross-trainer, then do some weights, then hoop until I either drop the hoop or until whatever I am watching reaches the end or a suitable break point. Then I start all over again (hooping in the opposite direction at the end of the next set). Typically doing 1.5 hours like that, a few times each week, I have lost 24 pounds in weight and 6 inches off my waist in 6 months (whilst still eating well), whilst strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. I'm now in good enough shape that I'm going back to heavy forestry work as a conservation volunteer, which pre-hooping my poor core muscles made slightly precarious.

Note that this weighted hoop does cause some bruising initially, but that lessens over time (I haven't worked out if that is through improved technique, or whether the body just copes better).

Highly recommended (for both sexes!).


Faithfull DIGBAR72 Digging Bar 72 x 1 Inch 17 lb
Faithfull DIGBAR72 Digging Bar 72 x 1 Inch 17 lb
Price: £36.92

5.0 out of 5 stars Simple but effective, 17 Aug 2013
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Having first used a digging bar when on a 6 month Land Operations course with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, I didn't think I would ever need to buy one for myself. However, not long after came the day when I decided that I wanted to plant a small orchard and protect it with deer fencing. At that point, I bought one of these Faithful 72" digging bars. It soon proved its worth. And then, my parents wanted a new rotary dryer installed, and the spear from their old one removed from the ground. I suspect the soil under their lawn had not been broken up since their house was build back in the 1930's (I think).Taking the top 8 inches off with a shovel wasn't too bad. But the earth was so compressed, that getting any deeper to get the spear out required my new Faithful digging bar. A brilliant tool that got the spear out in no time at all.

There is a technique to using a digging bar (thank you, Geoff at BTCV for teaching me it!). But once you know how to use it effectively, this simple tool is a godsend.

Highly recommended.


Brabantia Topspinner Rotary Dryer with 45 mm Metal Ground Spike -  40 Metres
Brabantia Topspinner Rotary Dryer with 45 mm Metal Ground Spike - 40 Metres
Price: £63.94

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Watch out for quite how tall this is, 17 Aug 2013
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This Brabantia rotary dryer is fine once it is in place, with one exception - it is unexpectedly high. My fault, I guess, for not reading all the way to the bottom of the details and seeing the height. Unfortunately, I had bought it for my elderly parents, who simply cannot reach to use it. At two metres high, it towers over them both.

The other negative, is that the design of the spear used for providing a stable foundation in the ground is such that getting it into the ground exactly vertical is difficult. Even equipped with my trusty spirit level (which I normally use for fence posts), I failed to get this as close to vertical as I wanted at the first couple of attempts (and you really don't want to know who much effort goes into digging it out again if you are not happy with your attempt at putting it in).

But, other than the height, and difficulty of getting the spear in at the right angle, this is a good dryer. Having realised that it is too tall for my parents, it has been dug up again and is now in my back garden. I'm 5'9" and it's too tall for me really, but I'll cope.

Recommended, but only for those 6 feet tall.


Shadow
Shadow
by Michael Morpurgo
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written, well read, topical story., 17 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Shadow (Audio CD)
I bought the audio CD format of "Shadow" so that I could listen to it whilst driving.

Just 3 CDs in length, it's a manageable length. Well read, in a Manchester accent, it kept my interest throughout. Note that the title and the image on the cover are a little misleading - whilst the dog "Shadow" is entwined with the story of Aman, the main (human) character, this is Aman's story, not Shadow's. If you are looking for a book about a dog, try the brilliant "A Dog's Purpose: A novel for humans".

This is the story of Aman and his mother, both Afghan refugees, how they came to arrive in the UK and the fight to allow them to stay. It's believable, topical, and fairly gritty. It certainly kept me interested, and it does work your emotions. However, I did also find it predictable, particularly towards the end (although I do tend to be pretty good at predicting endings, so it may not be obvious to everybody).

I'm not sure what age group this is intended for, but it could be very good for starting discussions about many topical issues with children, probably from early secondary school age.

This is the first book by Michael Morpurgo that I have listened to. I don't think it will be the last.

Recommended.


NLP Workbook: Teach Yourself
NLP Workbook: Teach Yourself
by Judy Bartkowiak
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.51

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you are already persuaded by NLP, maybe, but not for me, 28 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had heard talk of NLP and seen lots of references to it in Adult Education Class brochures etc. I'd never got around to really finding out about it until now. This workbook is the first thing I have read about it. It's possible that a book about NLP rather than a workbook would have been a better starting point, but c'est la vie. I have not worked through this end-to-end in a short period of time, instead opening it up again when I have some spare time and working through the next few exercises. That I have done this surprises even me, as the writing style and pseudo-science is really not for me.

This book ("The Neuro-linguistic programming workbook") does contain some thought provoking material. However, the terminology ("meta-programme"), the simplistic analysis ("Find out from this questionnaire whether you are internally or externally referenced"), the references to third-parties that suggest peer-reviewed, academic research, distract attention away from what could be a useful line of thought. Other parts of the content really require somebody to discuss the material with in order to have value - "Complete the following sentences to help you discover your beliefs and values". The reader can complete the sentences, but without somebody to question and discuss the answers, where is the value? "Are there any surprises here?" - I rather doubt it. As for "Now make the sound `swish'" - really?

Whether or not NLP contains useful stuff, the way this workbook presents the material (I don't know if this is typical of NLP) really does not work for me. It may for others, but not for me. Perhaps if used in a workshop environment, rather than reading it independently.


Investing in Shares For Dummies
Investing in Shares For Dummies
by David Stevenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Good introductory text, with some useful references, 28 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Writing a book about investing in shares is always going to be difficult, since readers are likely to have very different levels of existing experience, in investing, accounting, maths, business, risk analysis etc. One might say that the "For Dummies" range is for people without experience, but actually many books in the range are useful even for those with good existing knowledge.

I read "Investing in Shares for Dummies", despite having been investing for quite some years already. I figure reading more about the subject can't hurt (although it could possibly result in analysis-paralysis, where you end up considering so many different opinions/viewpoints that you actually never buy anything). Actually, I'm more concerned that people new to investing read a book and then think they can invest successfully, but that's a wider issue, rather than being about this book in particular.

As a beginner's guide, this is actually not bad, but in 346 pages (including appendices, index etc) it is never going to go into huge depth (if it did, most people wouldn't read it!). What it does do though, is to give the reader greater confidence with regards investing, hopefully motivating the reader to follow up some of the references to other materials, but doing so with enough information to make decisions that are sensible for them. I tend to think that a book like this, followed by a year or two subscribing to a magazine such as Moneyweek, would give time for ideas to be really understood before risking money in the markets. Possibly joining an investing/shares club may be useful, although that really depends on who else is in the club of course.

So, a good introductory book, with some useful snippets even for more experienced investors. Recommended, but with the caution that not everybody reading a book such as this will be successful in investing afterwards!


RHS Grow Your Own: Crops in Pots: with 30 step-by-step projects using vegetables, fruit and herbs (Royal Horticultural Society Grow Your Own)
RHS Grow Your Own: Crops in Pots: with 30 step-by-step projects using vegetables, fruit and herbs (Royal Horticultural Society Grow Your Own)
by Kay Maguire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Great for dipping into, 28 July 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been growing vegetables for years, mostly in pots on the patio (as pretty much any vegetable planted in the ground in our garden gets devastated by slugs and snails, with fruit often devastated by ants). It's been trial and error, learning what works in pots, what is likely to suffer if overwatered/underwatered, what needs feeding and what hates extra food etc. Over the years, I've adapted what I plant to what seems to work, without actually spending the time to work out why some things have worked and some haven't. Since receiving this book ("Grow your own crops in pots"), I have dipped into it regularly to see what it has to say about specific crops, both ones that I already grow and ones that I have wanted to try. It has answered some questions about previous failures, and encouraged me to try again with some plants, and to expand into other crops (I have grown soft-fruits in pots this year for the first time). With a good balance between illustrations and text, this is a really useful and motivating book for those of us who do our growing in pots. I have dipped into it as I have needed information over the last few months. It's probably coincidence (good summer weather, almost no pests after the cold winter), but I've had the best crops ever this year. During the winter months, I plan to read this book end-to-end, and do my planning properly ready for next year.

Recommended.


Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction
Scrum: a Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction
by Chris Sims
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.38

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful for newbies and many seasoned developers, 2 July 2013
I've been working as a Team Member on a SCRUM team for 15+ months. Whilst I've read various books about Agile practices, covering different aspects of the development lifecycle (estimating, testing etc), I've not read one as concise as this before. Somebody I know who keeps hearing me talk about Agile bought this book to get an overview. I borrowed it and read it in half an hour (yes, it really is that short). Did I learn anything from it? No. However, it did remind me of a couple of aspects of SCRUM that the team I am part of doesn't practice. It also reminded me to address the definition of Done again, which is vital to things working smoothly. So, this tiny little book was useful for me as a seasoned software engineer (30+ years) who has been working with SCRUM for the last 15+ months. For anybody new to SCRUM and Agile, I suspect this book will also be useful, but mainly to trigger asking pertinent questions. This book is not enough on its own to suddenly convert a "waterfall" style team to SCRUM/Agile. It is, however, useful, accessible and short!


Testing for Continuous Delivery with Visual Studio 2012 (Microsoft patterns & practices)
Testing for Continuous Delivery with Visual Studio 2012 (Microsoft patterns & practices)
by Larry Brader
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.38

5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anybody involved in development/testing, 15 Jun 2013
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The first thing to note about this book is that the full text of it is available for free online. I like to do my reading away from the computer, so bought this softback version instead.

At 229 pages including index etc, it's not one of those books that takes weeks to find time to read. Given that it's full of cartoons and the text in between is well written, it's also an easy read. I'm sure that is intentional, as the subject matter is one of those areas that it is nigh on impossible to get most development personnel to read. That's a pity, as setting up infrastructure and processes correctly makes life so much easier for everybody involved in the software development life cycle, from product owners, product/project/development managers, business analysts etc. through developers, testers and support personnel. It also makes the whole development lifecycle so much more efficient and reliable, and improves the quality of the final product. Why would anybody not want to know this stuff? It's beyond me. Let's just say that in different jobs there have been certain books that I have insisted any new staff working for me have to read. In my current role, this book is going to be on the list.

As somebody who has been working in software development/testing for 30 years, predominantly in Microsoft technologies, I have to say that I didn't find much in this book that I didn't already know. However, whilst reading it, I did put approximately 30 yellow stickies in the top to remind me to highlight certain things to others around me. That is a pretty clear demonstration that it is full of very useful content. For somebody new to continuous delivery, or who is simply not up to speed on Microsoft tools, this book would be even more useful.

The book describes working practices in two fictional companies, one working how many companies do (I certainly worked for a number like that when I was a contractor), the other working how they really should (I've worked for a VERY small number like that, but they are so much more efficient and more fun to work for), then describing steps to move from one set of practices to the other. That includes things such as unit testing, use of virtual (and physical) machines for testing, automated build mechanisms and deployment to the test machines, manual and automated system testing, and setting up the infrastructure. The only thing I noticed in the book that I would question is the usage of the term "unit" test. Anybody "old school" is likely to grit their teeth at the usage, although those who have only started automating tests recently may be more comfortable with how the term is used.

So, the subject matter is great, the writing style is excellent, definitely a very worthwhile read, for development/test managers, developers, testers, infrastructure teams etc. I`m in the fortunate position that I can insist a few people around me (i.e. the ones reporting to me) read this. The difficult thing is working out how to get developers who don't report to me and who are only interested in reading about the latest .Net techniques to read it.

Highly recommended.


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